The $199 Nest Cam might be the most popular Wi-Fi security camera today, but Samsung aims to knock it off its perch with the SmartCam HD Pro, a $209 camera that records video in full 1080p. Plus, Samsung's camera offers a bevy of features, including customizable motion-detection zones, scheduled recordings and night vision.
The SmartCam HD Pro has an attractive cylindrical design. The camera is about the size of a hockey puck, and sports a white plastic exterior with faux chrome banding on the sides. Infrared LEDs for night vision surround the 1080p camera at the top of the front panel. A luminance sensor, which enables night vision if ambient light levels are too low, is located directly below the camera.
On the bottom of the camera, there's a microSD card slot for local video storage (up to 64GB) and a pair of speakers that let you transmit your voice via the mobile app. (You'll have to purchase the microSD card separately.) A microphone, RJ-45 Ethernet port, audio-out port and power connector are located on the back of the device.
An adjustable white-plastic stand attaches to the camera at the back. The stand features two points of articulation that allow the camera to rotate 360 degrees clockwise (or counterclockwise) and 180 degrees forward or backward. The base of the stand also serves as a bracket that you can attach to a wall with the provided double-sided adhesive tape or screws.
Measuring just 4.7 x 3.3 x 3.1 inches, the SmartCam HD Pro is fairly unobtrusive compared to large cameras like the Piper NV. When I placed the camera on my shelf, for example, I quickly forgot it was there. However, it's larger than both the Netgear Arlo and the Nest Cam.
Setting up the SmartCam HD Pro proved incredibly simple. I plugged the camera into the outlet, downloaded the free Samsung SmartCam mobile app from Google Play (an iOS version is available on iTunes), and followed the on-screen instructions to create an account and connect the camera to the wireless network.
Thanks to its built-in Wi-Fi Direct technology — a Wi-Fi standard designed to let wireless devices communicate with one another without a wireless access point — the SmartCam automatically detects nearby Wi-Fi networks. I just needed to select my network and enter the password. The entire setup process took just a few minutes to complete from my phone.
The SmartCam HD Pro offers an array of helpful features. Like most networked security cameras, it will send you a push notification and automatically begin recording video if it detects motion or a loud noise. You can also link the SmartCam to your Google account, which permits the camera to send alerts to your email address and upload motion-detected snapshots to your Google+ page as private photos.
In addition, you can adjust the sensitivity of the camera's motion and audio detection, which is helpful if you have a pet at home that's likely to trigger an alert. Pet owners will appreciate that the camera lets you create motion zones — certain areas in the camera's field of view where motion will trigger an alert — simply by using your finger to draw a box on the live video feed.
Anticipating that some people will use the SmartCam as a baby monitor, Samsung equipped the camera with three lullabies — Brahms, Brahms Orgel and "Over the Rainbow" — that it can play using the built-in speaker. You can also create personalized audio clips. Sound quality is fairly good, though we noticed a bit of tinniness at the high end.
The camera also doubles as a two-way intercom, thanks to the integrated microphone. Tapping on the chat icon in the mobile app causes a microphone button to appear; holding down the button lets you transmit your voice through the camera's speaker. You can adjust the volume of the speaker and the microphone from the Settings menu in the mobile app.
Finally, you can schedule when the camera will automatically record video and send you motion-detection alerts. A calendar tool in the Web console lets you specify the hours and days of the week when the camera is active. However, this functionality isn't available in the mobile app.
Unfortunately, the SmartCam HD Pro doesn't let you create separate security modes (such as At Home, Away or On Vacation), as you can with the Piper NV and the Netgear Arlo. Although I could enable motion and audio detection when I stepped out of my apartment, I would have appreciated the ability to choose, on the fly, the type of activation (motion or noise) and the type of alert (push notification or email) that I wanted.
More disappointing is the lack of cloud storage for recorded video. Whereas the Belkin NetCam HD+, Netgear Arlo, Piper NV and Nest Cam all save video online, the SmartCam HD Pro stores motion-activated recorded video on a microSD card. With a maximum capacity of 64GB, the card will fill up quickly if you're capturing video in 1080p.
Inexplicably, videos recorded manually in the mobile app are saved online (although it's not clear exactly where) and can be downloaded to your mobile device.
You can remotely control the SmartCam HD Pro using either the Web console at samsungsmartcam.com or the mobile app. The latter is available for free on Google Play and iTunes, and requires at least Android version 2.3.3 or iOS 5.
The mobile app's interface is somewhat clunky. When you first log in, you'll see a menu with tabs for Camera, Setup and About. In the Setup tab, you can configure the alert settings (sound, vibrate or pop-up), manage your saved video clips and set the camera to automatically display high-definition video.
The Camera tab displays a list of the cameras connected to your account, with a status icon to the left of each camera's name and a menu button on the right. Tapping on the camera's name opens a live video feed with buttons along the bottom to manually record video and take a snapshot; use the microphone; adjust the video quality and brightness; and create motion zones.
Tapping on the menu button to the right of the camera's name opens a new window with buttons to open the live video feed, view motion-detection events, view recorded video and captured snapshots, and open settings. From the Settings menu, you can adjust the sensitivity of the speaker and microphone, enable night vision, configure motion-detection alerts and manage the SD card.
The Web console's interface is much cleaner. A window in the center of the screen displays the live video feed, with tabs above for Event Alarm, Playback and Setup. Clicking on a Settings icon below the window causes a panel to appear with sliding scales for brightness, microphone volume and speaker volume, and buttons to enable night vision, create motion zones, manually record video and adjust the video resolution.
The SmartCam HD Pro records 1080p video (with a max resolution of 720p on mobile devices) with a 128-degree field of view — the highest resolution of any of the networked security cameras we've tested, except for the Piper NV, Nest Cam, Canary and Netatmo Welcome. In comparison, the Netgear Arlo, D-Link Cloud Camera 2200, Belkin NetCam HD+ and Swann SW-Viewcam capture video in 720p.
The camera is capable of night vision from a range of up to 16 feet. Infrared video quality looked excellent, even with very little ambient light. When I viewed a live video feed of my apartment at night with all of the lights off, I could easily see the books on my shelves and the clutter on the coffee table.
Daytime video quality is equally outstanding. Colors are vibrant and true to life, and small details are clearly visible. Full 1080p video on the computer looks particularly stunning compared to competing cameras' 720p footage. The camera fared well in both natural and artificial light.
For the most part, the mobile app and Web console proved reliable. I occasionally experienced issues when I tried to remotely connect to the camera, but this might have been caused more by the quality of the local Wi-Fi network than the app itself. In any case, closing the application and then logging back in always fixed the issue.
The Samsung SmartCam HD Pro is an outstanding Wi-Fi security camera. For $169, it offers crisp and vibrant 1080p video, scheduled recordings and a very simple setup process. Moreover, pet owners will appreciate that you can easily limit motion detection to certain zones in the camera's field of view and adjust the sensitivity of the motion and audio sensor.
Given the SmartCam's relatively steep price, however, I would have expected it to include a more streamlined mobile app and customizable security modes. More disappointing is that Samsung doesn't provide online storage for motion-activated recordings. In comparison, the Netgear Arlo and the Nest Cam (both $199) offer subscription plans for accessing footage in the cloud.
Despite these shortcomings, the SmartCam HD Pro remains one of the better networked security cameras available. If you're looking for a device that's easy to set up and shoots in full 1080p, the SmartCam should be at the top of your list.